• Open Championship, Round Three

Westwood in charge after outlasting Woods

Alex Dimond July 20, 2013
Lee Westwood will take a two-shot advantage into the final round at Muirfield © Getty Images
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Lee Westwood will sleep on the lead heading into the final round of the Open Championship - knowing that, if he can repeat the impressive and sure-footed golf he displayed on Saturday, he will likely be the one lifting the Claret Jug at Muirfield.

2013 Open Championship leaderboard

Lee Westwood leads © Getty Images
  • -3        Lee Westwood
  • -1        Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan
  • E         Adam Scott
  • +1        Angel Cabrera, Henrik Stenson,
               Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore

Westwood, paired in the penultimate group of the day with world No. 1 Tiger Woods, saw an early three-shot advantage erased in exactly two holes by the focused American, before a decisive birdie at the 17th restored two-thirds of that advantage.

An up-and-down par at the last maintained that lead, meaning one of the best players never to have won a major will start Sunday with a two-shot advantage over Woods and Hunter Mahan, a helpful aide as he bids to finally rid himself of that somewhat unwanted moniker.

"I know what to do tomorrow," Westwood, who has been in the final group for the final round of major championships before without converting, said. "I know what to expect. I know what it takes.

"I think it's a case of believing you have what it takes to win. Tomorrow is, when you break it down, just another 18 holes.

"I've got my gameplan in place. I just need to go out tomorrow and execute it."

"There's only one guy ahead of me," Woods noted. I'll have to play a good round tomorrow, and just see how that stacks up."

The two will do battle once again on Sunday, but it would be far too simplistic to say Westwood simply has to beat Woods (hardly a straightforward feat at the best of times) for a second successive day to claim the first major of his career. A host of world-class players are queued up just behind the front three, with Adam Scott (level par) surely also vividly picturing a path to glory, and Lytham redemption, over the next 24 hours.

It was Westwood and Woods who dominated the action on Saturday afternoon, as the glorious sunshine that has adorned the East Lothian links throughout the week was joined by a slightly stiffer breeze, just to heighten the challenge for players already struggling to keep their heads above water.

Home favourite Martin Laird (81) and overnight leader Miguel Angel Jimenez (77) were among those who found the conditions too much; Westwood (70) in contrast seemed to find them very much to his taste.

It was the Englishman, owner of three top-five finishes in perhaps the greatest tournament of them all, who made the first surge of 'Moving Day', and it came at the fifth. Showing some rare aggression on what was a day for almost unrelenting conservatism, the 40-year-old took a driver off the deck to try and reach the par-five in two, ending up just a matter of yards short. Nevertheless, he was able to use his putting from the apron - draining the long, curling effort to inspire a rare fist-pump of joy (although his playing partner might have had a few things to say about the technique).

Then, at the short seventh, after knocking his approach to mere feet Westwood could watch happily as Woods overhit the green and failed to get up-and-down; a duly tapped-in birdie propelling Westwood into a three-shot lead over an increasingly congested chasing pack.

It was not a lead that would last long, however. A missed short putt at the eighth, compounded by finding a bunker off the tee at the long ninth, saw Westwood accrue successive bogeys - allowing Woods, making a regulation birdie at the par-five, back to parity.

That sent up a tense, intriguing back nine, with the two main contenders squaring off against each other from the same fairway. After missing a makeable birdie attempt at the 11th, Westwood made his second break of the day with a birdie at the 14th - although that shot was immediately given back with a bogey at the 16th. Even that did not feel so bad, though, with a fluffed chip from the left-hand rough making a double-bogey look far more likely. A 25-footer avoided that potential momentum-stopper.

While this was going on Woods was remaining conservative, ticking off pars with measured approaches into greens, although a few half-chances for birdie would not find the cup. At the 17th, however, came a first real error of course management - a second shot shied at the green from 260-yards finding one of the fairway cross-bunkers, setting up a 15-footer for him to save par.

Hunter Mahan will be in the final group alongside Lee Westwood © PA Photos
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Westwood pitched to around the same spot in three - and the Englishman would hole as his rival would miss, sealing a two-shot swing that would remain to the close.

"My emotions were pretty calm all day," Westwood noted. "I tried not to get too excited, although when the eagle happened at five I allowed that to get me pumped up.

"I tried to stick to the gameplan and avoid too much trouble."

"It was a ride," Woods concluded. "Trying to position myself near the lead or in the lead.

"It was a different golf course today - the approaches were softer and some of the greens hadn't been rolled, it felt like. It will be interesting to see what they do tomorrow."

Behind that duo, it was from further afield that the biggest moves came. Sergio Garcia, outside the cut line when he finished on Friday morning, carded a joint-best round of the day 68 to find himself tied for 11th by the end of the third round, alongside a group of hopefuls including Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day.

Scott, the reigning Masters champion, started the day a bit closer to the leaders than the Spaniard, and his 70, while less impressive numerically, put him firmly in the thick of things. Looking to avenge his meltdown to lose the Claret Jug 12 months ago, two nines of 35 mean he is primed to make a charge on Sunday.

The Australian is the fourth and final player at par or better, with four players at one-over. Of those, Ryan Moore actually saw his position improve after a one-over par round of 72, with Angel Cabrera, Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson - who agonisingly bogeyed the last - losing just a fraction of ground.

Nevertheless, all remain in the hunt - although they will perhaps need to match Mahan's Saturday effort, a blistering 68 that included two birdies over the treacherous closing stretch, if they are to win. Mahan will be in the final pairing for the second consecutive major championship, although he will be hoping for a different outcome to that day at Merion, when he shot 75.

Key Sunday Tee Times

  • 14:10: Lee Westwood & Hunter Mahan
  • 14:00: Adam Scott & Tiger Woods
  • 13:50: Angel Cabrera & Ryan Moore
  • 13:40: Henrik Stenson & Zach Johnson
  • 13:30: Phil Mickelson & Francesco Molinari

Phil Mickelson, Mahan's partner that day, no less, is two-over overall after a round of 72, but believes he can still win the Claret Jug - if he can produce something in the 60s in the final round.

If that is the case, then don't sleep on Francesco Molinari either.

"It was a good round," Mickelson said. "Anything around par today was a good round.

"I think that I'll have to play a good round tomorrow, but I think it's right there."

If that is to be the case, it will require Westwood to slip somewhat. The man from Nottingham has something of a reputation for doing so at the business end of major championships - indeed, he did so at the last regular tour event he was in firm contention at, the PGA Championship at Wentworth earlier in the summer - but such a meltdown certainly never appeared likely on Saturday.

At last month's US Open, Justin Rose became the first English major championship winner for 17 years. On Sunday, Westwood has the chance to follow that historic breakthrough within four weeks.

Unfortunately, plenty of players - some of them with better major credentials - are out to stop that happening.

Tiger Woods will need to produce a solid round on Sunday © Getty Images
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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk